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Timely birthday gift: Hlebovy's homecoming



Published: Wed, July 7, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Campbell Memorial High graduate is getting numerous opportunities with Vermont.

By BILL SULLIVAN

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

NILES -- Happy birthday, Gus Hlebovy.

Those were the feelings of the day when both Gus Hlebovy, the 22-year-old relief pitcher of the Vermont Expos, and his father of the same name and same birth date celebrated Tuesday at Eastwood Field.

The pitcher's grandfather, also with the same name but with a different DOB, was also on hand as the Expos rallied for a 4-2 win over the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

The grandfather enjoyed a storybook athletic career at East High School half a century ago.

Closing it out

Hlebovy pitched the ninth inning for his fifth save -- tied for tops in the New York-Penn League. He has appeared in 10 games for the Expos (9-10), the most by a New York-Penn League pitcher.

"We've only had 19 games, so I've been in over half the games," Hlebovy said.

A good size contingent of Campbell residents were on hand to see the 2000 Memorial graduate pitch. And, pitch hard.

"Just about everybody from Campbell that I'm friends with -- anybody I know -- was here [Monday night]," Hlebovy said of the first game of the series that he did not appear in.

The three-game series concludes tonight.

"I just couldn't ask for a better situation to come in," he said of his save in front of fans and family.

He faced four Scrappers Tuesday. One flew out, one reached on an error and two struck out.

Hlebovy spent one season at Kent State as a starter and relief pitcher, then was the closer for the Golden Flashes for two years, notching 22 saves in the spell.

Pro debut

Last season with the Expos team in the Gulf Coast League, Hlebovy appeared in 12 games (272/3 innings) with a 2.60 ERA.

"Baseball was in that young man's blood," Campbell High School baseball coach Wayne Zetts said. "He's definitely one of the best we've ever had. By far, he threw the hardest.

"When he left us, he was probably about 87-88 [mph]," Zetts added. "As he left Kent State, he was up to about 96. I'd say he put some miles on the fastball."

Hlebovy was well-tanned, the result of extended spring training in Florida.

Zetts looks forward to someday getting tickets to see Hlebovy pitch in the majors, perhaps nearby in Cleveland or Pittsburgh.

"I'm not going to Puerto Rico to see him play, though."

When the field first opened, Hlebovy came to see a Scrappers game. He pledged to himself that he'd return someday as a professional.

That's a birthday wish come true now for him, his dad and his grandfather, too.

"I came here one day when I was young, about four years ago," he said. "I remember thinking that I'm done coming to these games until I play."

He did pitch for Kent against YSU at Eastwood Field.

sullivan@vindy.com




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